Living Near Two Baltimore-Area Spice Plants Raises Cancer Risks Due to Ethylene Oxide Leaks: Report

The EPA has proposed new ethylene oxide emission standards after investigations into leaks of the sterilizing gas at facilities nationwide revealed higher cancer risks than previously believed.

A new report warns residents living near two Elie Spice plants in Maryland, on the outskirts of Baltimore, may be exposed to high enough levels of ethylene oxide leaking from the plants to pose a potential cancer risk.

The Baltimore Sun published a report (subscription required) this week, indicating that facilities in Hanover and Jessup, Maryland, were added to a list of 25 commercial sterilizers issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, due to the high levels of ethylene oxide emissions. Both facilities use the toxic gas to sterilize the spices they manufacture.

On June 8, EPA officials and Maryland environmental and health officials held a meeting in Jessup, indicating that the facilities are taking steps to reduce emissions, and that the EPA is preparing new national rules to address updated assessments of new data on the health risks of ethylene oxide leaks.

The report indicates the two facilities pose a potential risk to anyone in the community within about a 1,000-foot radius. The EPA estimates 100 out of every 1 million people who live within that radius may develop cancer due to ethylene oxide exposure. However, the plants, which are three miles apart, are seated primarily in commercial areas with few actual residents in the immediate vicinity.

Ethylene Oxide Exposure Risks

Ethylene oxide (EtO) is a highly carcinogenic compound used to sterilize some medical devices, including those made of some polymers, metals, glass or made with multiple layers with hard-to-reach crevices. However, exposure to ethylene oxide has been linked to serious and potentially life-threatening injuries.

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Ethylene Oxide Leak Lawsuits

If you or a loved one were diagnosed with cancer after living near Elie Spice plants in Maryland, contact a lawyer for a free case evaluation to find out if financial compensation may be available.

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In response to the risk, the EPA announced it was pursuing new ethylene oxide standards in April 2023, which would reduce ethylene oxide emissions from chemical plants, commercial sterilizers and would reduce health risks to workers in those facilities.

The proposal follows the recent release of an EPA report which found that the lifetime risk of cancer from workplace exposure to ethylene oxide could be as high as 10%.

The recently proposed ethylene oxide standards are made up of three potential regulations. One seeks to update several rules that apply to chemical plants, which make a variety of polymers and resins. The proposed standards, under the Clean Air Act, would result in a 63% reduction in nationwide EtO emissions from all sources compared to those released in 2020, according to EPA estimates.

Sterigenics Plant Ethylene Oxide Leaks Resulted in Lawsuits and Settlements

The recent findings about the ethylene oxide leaks from Elie Spice plants in Hanover and Jessup, Maryland may lead to lawsuits against the company, including individual injury lawsuits brought by individuals diagnosed with injuries, as well as class action lawsuits for all area residents who may require future medical monitoring.

In March 2019, the FDA warned that the Sterigenics plant in Willowbrook, Illinois, was being shut down following massive leaks, sparking a flood of ethylene oxide exposure lawsuits.

Another Sterigenics facility in Michigan was also closed down for similar reasons, and Georgia health officials determined other ethylene oxide leaks were occurring at a Sterigenics facility outside of Atlanta in August 2019. That facility was shut down temporarily to address the problem, and Sterigenics lawsuits have been filed over health risks from exposure to the toxic gas.

Following lawsuits filed over ethylene oxide leaks at its facilities, Sterigenics reached a $408 million settlement agreement to resolve the claims in January 2023, which would resolve more than 870 claims filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, and at the state level in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois.

The settlement followed the first Illinois lawsuit against Sterigenics that went to trial last year, ending in a $363 million verdict for Sue Kamuda, who claimed she had developed breast cancer due to ethylene oxide leaks from the Willowbrook facility. She also argued that her son developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma due to the exposures as well.

Following a trial in Illinois Circuit Court, the jury ruled Sterigenics should pay Kamuda $38 million in compensatory damages, and an additional $325 million in punitive damages.

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